Lake Superior is our spirit guide and inspiration. We've decided, as a business, to spend this summer reaching out to people and organizations in order to learn more about the Lake and the watershed, the challenges the Lake is facing, along with the benefits and uniqueness of the world's largest body of freshwater. One person we've connected with is Mary Dougherty whose project, Words for Water is a gorgeous visual exploration of people's connection to Lake Superior.
Mary will be at the distillery on August 2, from 5-7 to photograph anyone here who wants to share their words for water. So, all you Lake Superior lovers, we hope you'll come by and be part of the story.
Mary was also kind enough to answer a few questions about her inspiring project for me! Read on to learn more...
Firstly, of course I can get a description of the project from your website, but I was wondering, could you describe the project, especially how you came up with it and what your vision for it is in your own words?
The idea for Words for Water (like most good things) happened around our kitchen table. My husband and I came up with this idea of getting lots of people to speak for the water in their own words, and then allowing me to stitch them into a collective story. I pose the question, “if you could speak for water, what would you say?” and the participant writes their word or phrase on a chalkboard. I take their photo, add it the collection of words I’ve gathered and stitch it into our collective love story to Lake Superior and our homes. Those of us who live near Lake Superior -- less than .0049 percent of the world's population -- are the direct stewards of Lake Superior and we need to lend our words, and voices, to that enormous and vulnerable body of water.
The Words for Water story is grounded in the values that are important to us: clean water, strong communities, our rural heritage, and a healthy environment. Our role, as residents of the Lake Superior Basin, is to create a bedrock of commonality that all questions about our future are filtered through....just like Lake Superior and the healthy watershed we are speaking for.
I am passionately and completely in love with storytelling. I think that storytelling has the power to change the world and I think that's what we're missing in these fights to preserve what we love. We have to tell our stories, the stories of who we are now, and who we were before, to give the generation that comes after us context and connection. That information is really important in community. It provides a tether back to where you came from. The words I’ve gathered so far: pristine, fragile, help me, job security, love, bimaadiziwin (living a good life) and freshwater stronghold, have weight and if there ever was a time to wield that power, it’s now.
Are there any connections you've made or stories you've heard from people that really stood out as memorable? Surprising?
I took the project out to Standing Rock in November 2016 to gather the words for water that are spoken on the Great Plains, in hopes that I would find some of the words we speak at the headwaters of the Great Lakes….and I did. Our words for water, written hundred so miles apart and in two very different places, were remarkably similar and that strengthened my belief that, when it comes to water, our common ground is vast and transcends the human constructs of boundaries.
Don Albrecht, a friend and photographer from Bayfield who passed away in April 2017, provided the first word for that trip to Standing Rock. Don did a Words For Water photo at the beginning of the project and he got in touch with me before we left and said he had an idea for another Words for Water photo. While I was excited to travel to Standing Rock, I didn't have a sense of how their words would weave into our Lake Superior story. When Don shared his word, Connection, with me on that November afternoon, I knew he had written the first word in our fourth chapter in the Words for Water story. Don shared that connection was the unifying theme in his life...that he sought to create connections between places and people with his words, his work and his images.
A few weeks before he passed away, Don asked us to light a candle because he didn't want the light to go out and I remembered our conversation on the beach in November-- when he said felt compelled to write because words endure after we've moved on. And it’s our stories, individual and collective, that will become the candles that never go out...shedding our light when we’ve moved on.
What do you wish businesses in the region - like ours - would do or take into consideration when it comes to taking care of our great lake?
We live in a watershed that’s both immense and fragile. Businesses who choose to set up shop in the Lake Superior Basin need to be acutely aware of the benefits and responsibilities that come along with this region and act accordingly. Ten percent of the world’s freshwater is on our doorsteps and all decisions related to the businesses bottom-line must also be examined from the Lake’s bottom-line — clean and abundant water in an increasingly thirsty world.